Due to poverty, Anna Ndipo, 20, from Chisangwi Village in Traditional Authority Kasumbu in Dedza, dropped out in Standard Three.
When she quit school, she could not read or write.
“It was hard for me to read a simple text on the phone. I had to consult my little brother for whom I had to be his role model. It was embarrassing,” she says.
Anna, just like most Malawian girls, married before the legal marriageable age of 18.
She now lives with her parents and single-handedly raises a child as her husband migrated to South Africa in search of greener pasture.
“When I first moved in, life was tough, but it is getting better,” she says.
Anna and her parents own a grocery and pigs. She opened the shop in 2019 and her monthly profit has since quadrupled to K20 000.
She is one of the beneficiaries of the Integrated Adult Education (IAE) for Entrepreneurship project funded by GIZ Malawi and the European Union. The project is implemented in Dedza and Lilongwe by the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (Cyece) in partnership with DVV International.
IAE integrates entrepreneurship skills and knowledge with literacy and numeracy skills to help traders to improve their businesses and livelihoods.
Thanks to the programme, Anna can now read and write while growing her business.
She narrates: “At first, I didn’t know how to count and save money.
“I ended up giving too much change and misusing my earnings without thinking of other ways to expand the business.”
The young woman dreams of diversifying her income sources to improve her livelihood while supporting her parents and siblings.
“Had I gone far with education, my parents and siblings wouldn’t have suffered. I want to see them through college,” she explains.
Angella John, from the same rural locality, dropped out in Standard Two.
She also benefits from the project and says her shop has become more profitable following IAE sessions.
“I now document everything that I order and sell to gauge whether I am making profits or losses. So far, the gains outweigh the losses,” she states.
Angella sells maize and legumes to her neighbours.
“Discipline is paramount for a successful business. I have learnt to treat my customers well regardless of their status and age,” she states.
Group village head Chisangwi is happy that businesspeople without adequate education now know how to read, write and count.
He says: “The people in my area are dedicated to small-scale businesses, but they couldn’t tell whether they were making profits because they were illiterate,” he says.
The fifth Integrated Health Survey of 2020 shows that one in every four Malawians aged at least 15 can read and write.
However, literacy rates are lower among women and girls (69 percent) compared to men and boys (83 percent).
Overall, only 13.2 percent of the same population are reported to have never attended school. However, half of these people named lack of money as the main reason for missing out on education and one in five reported that their parents did not allow them to attend school.
DVV International regional director for Southern Africa David Harrington says the IAE programme inspires participants to become role models in their communities by demonstrating quality entrepreneurial skills.
“The programme also offers participants the opportunity to assess themselves, to see if they can run a successful business and what skills and competencies they need to improve,” he says.
Youth rights activist Fred Nyondo says the programme has brought back hope to the youth who struggle to get employed due to lack of education and relevant skills.
Ceyce director Prisca Chakholoma says the project has created demand for IAE in the communities where it is being implemented.
“We now have a lot of people interested in adult literacy, so we believe it is going to yield positive results if more people are incorporated in the programme,” she says.